Shannon Kidd

Since I abandoned my parent’s religion some 20 years ago, I’ve consistently leveled up in the number of seasonal celebrations I observe. Tonight’s celebration is every bit as wholesome as it is pagan. I’m not even sure what it is we’ve gathered to celebrate. Spring, perhaps? Whatever the case, our host’s quaint cottage home is fully stocked with smiling faces and spontaneous (yet consensual) embraces.

The scenery includes everything one might hope to see in a pagan family home. To one side of a colorfully adorned fireplace is an altar dedicated to the Tarot. To the other side is a separate half-Zen/half-Wiccan altar. Yes, our hosts are both white and queer, but that’s beside the point. Above the mantle is a family-values mandala.

My eyes don’t know what to do. Should they forever roll in response to cultural appropriation or well up with tears in response to the heartwarming spirit behind it?

Full disclosure: My bedroom is filled with religious imagery from around the world. I have a gifted image of the blessed virgin and child from the Vatican, multiple malas, misbaha, and rosaries (in Roman, Anglican, and Orthodox varieties), a kinara and chalice, a variety of bells and chimes, and my beloved Guanyin statue sits center stage. All this worldly décor is bookended by shelves of sacred texts and comparative religion textbooks.

What can I say? I’m a product of ’90s adolescence and the aeonian search for queer identity. So I’m in no real position to judge incidental and heartfelt appropriation for the sake of woo. Besides, I can totally get behind this family’s values, which include “friends and community, love, understanding, doing things together, exercise, spirit, curiosity, unicorns, and eating rainbow foods.” Sure, those last two values take an unexpected turn, but what’s the use of family values if the children in the family have no voice?

A mummified bat dangles above the mandala, because of course there’s a mummified bat. More mysterious is the patinated trumpet in a bed of gypsophila encompassed by a wicker basket beside an overpopulated couch.

Food is abundant, and every time I believe I’ve had my fill, more food arrives. Our hosts have supplied a shockingly moist turkey, hot apple cider, and cranberry sauce—fresh from the can. Another guest brings vegetarian sushi. Another brings flatbread pizza topped with pesto and Kalamata olives. Yet another comes bearing kale salad topped with the oft-underappreciated pistachio.

I stuff my face while admiring the kitchen window garden. The plants and flowers, some living and some dried, cover the window, leaving only enough space for light to peek in and human eyes to peek out, like a scene from Narnia or some other fanciful children’s book we all pretend to have read.

Another guest arrives with salt-and-pepper potato chips. Another offers pita with a garbanzo bean salsa and homemade tzatziki. The resident raw foodist supplies us with clementines and pomegranate seeds. Another brings a conspicuously unmixed bag of cheddar and caramel corn mix.

Overwhelmed by food and social interaction, I excuse myself to the designated kitten room. There are four to six cats corralled into what I assume is otherwise the master bedroom—four on the bed and at least one occasionally darting out from underneath. Staying ever on brand, I form an immediate bond with the least social of my feline friends. She’s older, fluffy, and melancholy, wearing one of those lampshade bonnets to prevent excessive grooming. This is a cat I can understand.

Unsure of how much time I’ve spent cuddling a pile of kittens, I return to the common area to find a Jenga tower comprised of Rice Krispies treats and an ample pan of baked mac ’n’ cheese, inspiring me to contemplate what qualifies a noodle as macaroni. I’ll leave you to Google it for yourself and award this gathering 10 points out of 10.